READINGS: Malachi 3:1-6 Luke 3:1-6; Matthew 12:9-21
We have a local website and network called neighbourly. It’s a great tool. You can send out notices of events in specific areas around here, and people get a daily email with the key events.
Here’s an example recently – just before the last school holidays:
If you can’t read that it says:
5 Top Posts
- Mainly Music on Fridays at 10 am – come to BBP @ 45 Anzac Road, Browns Bay New
- Browns Bay Family Home Cleaner Required New
- Brown Chickens sighted on Browns Bay Road this morning 17Sep15 New
- Update on Tsunami Warning New
- National Warning issued by Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management- Tsunami: Marine and Beach Threat New
Do you see the odd thing about this email?
- Mainly music – number one! All good really!
- Then a cleaner needed – number two! Makes sense. They say cleanliness is close to godliness!
- Then the lost brown chickens – number three! O dear. Sounds tragic really.
- Then the last two are about the Tsunami coming! Bit late for mainly music, the cleaner and the chickens really – if the tsunami comes, well who cares. Unless you’re a duck, it’s all academic really.
Seriously – the last time there was a serious tsunami warning people went down to the beach front with picnic baskets for an afternoon’s entertainment!
It sounds just like the people in the time of Noah…. Or Lot. Have a look in Luke 17:
Luk 17:24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. Luk 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Luk 17:26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. Luk 17:27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
Luk 17:28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Luk 17:29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luk 17:30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. Luk 17:31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Luk 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife!
You know the story of the boy in Sunday school who had to answer the question: what happened to Lot’s wife? He wrote – “she was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire at night”.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Are WE serious?
When we talk about Advent and being prepared for a major event or happening, it reminds me of our days in Wellington before the Christchurch earthquakes.
We were not that serious about having food and water stored up. I don’t think we had more than one torch and certainly nothing to cook on in the event of a long term power failure.
And that was despite having a number of serious shakes via quakes.
And so we bought our emergency kits after the fact – and then moved to Auckland where you need a boat when you get 12 hours warning of a volcano.
PREPARATION is a big deal.
So John the Baptist arrives. There is a serious pronouncement of an event here. And this is the announcement of the arrival of the one who would do the major announcement to follow. It’s the pre-alert if you like.
Luk 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— Luk 3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.
There had been a silence for a long time. Nothing – heaven had been silent since the time of Malachi which was written so many hundreds of years before this (in about 430BC). God speaks to John – and through John to people about Jesus – and through Jesus the Word of God – to the world. Malachi warns us:
Mal 3:1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
THE LORD WILL COME SUDDENLY
The passage quickly turns to the actual event:
“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Mal 3:4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
Advent is the event before the event. It’s about being ready for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. For us it’s the pre-Christmas bit.
I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advent sermons. The one was preached in 1930 in Cuba. Listen to what he says: “But Advent is a serious matter too, and indeed a terribly serious matter. We are a strange people. As Advent comes around again, we will probably sing a few Christmas carols at home with our children, rush around to by all our gifts, write a few Christmas cards, and the when all the office parties are over, we shall enter the land of fun and laughter, the land of Christmas.”
He goes on to his sermon text from Deuteronomy 32: 48-52 about Moses dying before he reaches the Promised Land. Moses whose life’s journey and mission was to lead the people to that land. What a terrible unfulfilled hope and wish. God speaks to His man – to Moses, and tells him to go up to the Abarim mountain range, to die on the mountain, within sight of the promised land. Because of disobedience, unholiness and sin. Bonhoeffer says simply: Before the promise, the sinner must die. He puts it like this:
“He comes. Are you ready? There lies the shattering question with which the New Testament begins and ends, the only decisive question for the whole world and for the whole of our life. Are you ready for God?” (Christmas Sermons, 2005:p36).
John comes before Jesus. Repentance comes before good news. Advent before Christmas.
At Advent with all the horrible things happening around the world, our hope has to be realistic and not decorated with tinsel.
We need some cleaning up in our lives.
The Malachi reading is the powerful one. It features in Handel’s Messiah. I was listening to it again. I always marvel at the power of the human voices who sing the solo parts.
Would you like to listen to some of it? Of course they repeat the lines from Malachi again and again. Like a preacher repeating herself a lot – maybe because people are slow to hear or hear only what their itching ears want to hear! (Verse: 2Ti 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.)
Here it is. What amazing singing. Look out for the visuals about cleansing.
(The singers and musicians: Contralto: Hillary Summers; Bass: Alastair Miles; Orchestra: The Brandenburg Consort; Choir: Kings College Choir Cambridge).
The words are straight from Scripture – staring from Haggai 2:
Bass: Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3: 1)
Alto or soprano: But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3: 2)
And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 3)
Lovely that they simply sing scripture!
So what about the Levites?
Earlier in Malachi 1 we read: Mal 1:6 “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.
And then: Mal 1:10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. Mal 1:11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi was obviously concerned about their shoddy work – their second rate offerings. ABout worship.
In chapter 2 he spells out how they had broken His covenant with Levi (2:8).
They offered him second best, and did not keep the covenant. (By grace – later in the NT when the deacons are elected so that the apostles can focus on preaching the word in Acts 6 we read: Act 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.)
If there is anything that we are to be judged on – it’s our worship. And judgment begins with the household of God for us too (1 Peter 4:17).
Our offerings. Our passion for worship. Our total love for God. Or lack of it.And how we express it here especially – is this our very best?
Our hearts that become hardened – or indifferent – or locked onto other things.
Again and again Jesus reminds us. Again and again in Deuteronomy it comes up. It’s about all our heart. One quote from the gospels will do: Mar 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
- All this preparation at Advent.
- All these activities.
- All the preparation for Christmas too.
- But are we really ready for his coming?
The one of whom it is said as we heard in Luke 3: “All mankind will see God’s salvation.” And in Matthew 11 today: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”
We also have a covenant – through our baptism. We are also committed to put God first.
But there is so much rubbish in our lives.
The refiner’s fire will cleanse us too. Renewal comes through testing and cleansing. And the word for ‘soap’ (borit) sounds quite similar to the word for “covenant” (berit). Ironically.
So in chapter 3 he says that God will come:
(Mal 3:1 …. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, al 3:4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
One writer put it like this:
“Like a refiner’s fire and cleansing soap, the arrival of Christ in our midst calls us to reverent obedience and faithful praise. The good news is indeed that we will not be left unchanged but will be reformed and refined to become like Christ. The prophet raises a challenge for each of us. As we proclaim Christ’s coming with Advent expectation, the promise of Christ’s arrival should prompt us to self-reflection and even make us uncomfortable. Are we ready?” (Anne Stewart. Workingpreacher.org)
There is a danger that we are not ready. That we are chasing brown chickens on Browns Bay road when a tsunami is coming.
Gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6
In the midst of all these world events and powerful people – Luke mentions leaders from Caesar to Pilate – to Herod and his brother Phillip, Lysanias – and the high priests in the temple at Jerusalem – with all their power and influences in their various sectors – there’s John the son of Zachariah hanging out in the wilderness. The desert. A typical prophet. Alternate. Different views and different diet. Weird – in fact. Dressed in camel skins and eating wild locusts and honey. Locusts are very tricky – those little bits stick in your teeth…
The focus is not on this unusual man, however. After the sweeping statement locating this story in historical time and its politicians and priests – the focus is not on the man.
The subject of Luke’s pronouncement is very specific:
“.. the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” The Word of God comes! The focus is not on the man – but on the message God gives him. Wonderful. Awesome! God’s word came to John after hundreds of years of prophetic silence. And God – through John – declares that they are to get ready.
There are different kinds of readiness and different levels of seriousness in our preparation in life.
I meet so many people really who when I mention Christmas get a pale frightened look on their faces and bleat out an apology: “I’m not ready”.
Last week we talked about being ready for Jesus’ return – or at least for our death and journey to eternity.
READY OR NOT – is a game children play. ‘Coming – ready or not!’
Death comes our way. In the secular world people who are dying are often encouraged to sort things out – to focus on preparations for their stuff and family – not wanting to leave a trail of mess and unfinished business, and wanting to provide for their loved ones. Funeral insurance is sold on this basis – don’t leave them with a huge debt, and so forth.
On a daily basis people get ready each day for work (many struggle to get this right too!).
And there are other preparations we make. On a more spiritual note people used to get ready for church each week.
READY EVERY SUNDAY
There was a time when the one really important readiness ritual we went through was on a Sunday. Churches were quiet places to enter into. And for the newcomer it seemed odd and boring. Nevertheless there was a sense of getting ready (in dress) and preparing (in heart and mind) to come into God’s presence. Of repentance and making right – confession and new beginnings. Stillness. (Very different now as we are a rowdy bunch really).
PREPARING THE WAY TODAY
In the midst of our Christmassy busyness today we hear God’s Word in the words John the Baptizer (he was never a Baptist!)
John’s task is to get people geared up for the salvation that comes from Jesus! Listen again:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
TODAY IT’S ABOUT READINESS FOR WORKING WITH GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW
Or God working in us.
The desert – the wilderness – was not an unusual place God to speak to people. In fact people today are quite keen on those desolate yet beautiful places for retreats and reflection. They are less distracting.
But for most of us – if we don’t take the time and open our hearts and minds – our daily routine in the city or at home – can be like a desert. Dry. Dusty. No water of life. No energy. No word from the Lord.
The Essential Jesus 20 weeks and 100 readings have given many of us a new discipline and a new commitment to read the Bible. The point is – in our deserts – God speaks to us today – through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.
THE CHALLENGE OF JOHN’S MESSAGE AT ADVENT
In the midst of the tinsel and Christmas expectation – all that wrapping paper and exotic food – it’s a very challenging thing for preachers to be true to this passage.
The candle we lit was for peace. It’s a lovely idea and all our hearts are softened when we think of the conflict of the world and the need for peace. We admire peacekeepers and pray for peace.
But true preparation for the coming of the Messiah – required repentance. Peace came at a cost. Changing direction and changing one’s mind – these actions are associated with repentance in the Bible.
I am sure that John – in his time of preparation in that lonely place we call God’s calling – the calling of prophets and preachers alike (in fact preaching is prophecy in the literal sense of speaking God’s word – “speaking forth”) – would have some straightening out of the paths in himself – smoothing out the rough places in his heart. He would have had his own repenting to do.
This repentance – if you are looking up – means you have to look down at the world from God’s point of view (imagine being able to see all the rage, anger and abuse going on with a view from heaven). If you are going north, it would mean changing direction to south. You get my point.
It’s a spiritual 180 degree turn which inevitably leads to a physical change in direction as well.
The truth is we need so much turning that we can easily become disorientated and dizzy. And our world can be like a desert, or a steep hill, or even a deep valley to claw out of. I remember a serious road crash we had some years back – where we went over a steep hill – and only a sand trap by a tree prevented us from disaster. We had to crawl out of there.
As we hear God’s word – and if we are serious – we have to make some moves. Our interior landscape can be quite bumpy.
And we do struggle sometimes because we want instant results and answers. The truth is a lot of the change that happens in us is slow and painful.
It takes time to clean things up in our lives. Like those bits of locusts that get stuck in your teeth. It needs some digging around.
So it makes sense that we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)
We need to set our compass with Jesus as our true North.
Wesley understood the challenge of true conversion and ongoing repentance and transformation when he wrote his hymn Love Divine. Listen again:
Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.
Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley
You can’t get that movement towards a new creation if you’re stuck somewhere in the wrong place or going in the wrong direction.
And changing the landscape of our lives takes time. Like changing the course of a river there is a lot of stuff to be shifted.
May you work on your spiritual preparation this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world.
May we make the right moves and let him change us – bit by bit – on our journey.